October 2023, Volume 29, Number 4
California’s farm sales of $51 billion in 2021 were 1.5 times the farm sales of Iowa, the second-leading farm state. California accounted for 12 percent of US farm sales of $434 billion in 2021. US farm sales included $238 billion or 55 percent from the sale of crops and $195 billion from the sale of animal commodities.
The three leading farm counties, Kern, Fresno, and Tulare, each had farm sales of over $8 billion and collectively accounted for over half of the state’s farm sales. The leading commodity in Kern and Fresno Counties was grapes, and oranges in Tulare county.
California’s leading labor-intensive fruit crops by value included strawberries worth $3 billion, oranges worth $900 million, tangerines and mandarins worth $800 million, and lemons worth $600 million. Raspberries worth $400 million were more valuable than cherries, $300 million, and blueberries, $200 million. Peaches were worth $400 million and avocados $300 million.
Salinas-based Taylor Farms generates over $6 billion a year processing and marketing almost 60 million pounds a week of leafy greens and other fresh vegetables supplied by 280 North American farmers from over 150,000 acres of open fields. The production of tomatoes and other fresh vegetables in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) structures such as greenhouses is expanding. Most fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers are from some form of CEA, but leafy greens are mostly grown in California-Arizona fields and bagged for consumers.
Packing and marketing bagged salads is dominated by a few firms, including Taylor Farms, Dole Foods, Fresh Express (Chiquita), and Ready Pac (Bonduelle). Taylor bought Mission Produce in 2019 and renamed it TF Agricultural Operations to supply about 40 percent of TF’s vegetables from 42,000 acres. TF also bought Earthbound Farms in 2019. TF has three major divisions: retail bagged salads, deli for salad bowls, and food service, and accounts for half or more of each segment in the US market.
Building CEA is expensive, perhaps $7.5 million an acre for greenhouses and $15 million an acre for vertical farms. Many CEA firms in the eastern states near most Americans are struggling and several have gone bankrupt.
California harvested over 13 million tons of processing tomatoes from the 255,000 acres contracted by processors in 2023, a quarter in Fresno County. Wet weather delayed planting, so many tomatoes ripened at the same time. Growers received a record $138 per ton or seven cents a pound for tomatoes in 2023, up from $105 a ton in 2022.